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Allies Convene to Share Tips and Best Practices for Centering Parent Voices

Elevating parent voices is a powerful form of advocacy. As allies have knowledge of the policy process, parents have lived experiences and insight on what is wrong and can be improved. Allies gathered to learn from peers how states are working to include parents in their policy development and advocacy strategy. 

NC Child’s Parent Advisory Council is an advocacy group of parents and caregivers from across the state whose children rely on Medicaid for their health care. (Photo: NC Child)


Allies shared extensive information and resources during the Centering Parent Voices Huddle. 

Colorado allies shared information on their Parent Ambassador Program. This program trains Head Start, and Early Head Start parents to be advocates in their communities, intentionally incorporating parent voice into every step of the advocacy process. Clayton Early Learning created the Parent Ambassador Implementation Toolkit based on the program in their state, in partnership with Washington and Maine. 

Iowa allies worked on centering parent voices through partnerships and data co-interpretation. Common Good Iowa sought out culturally specific community organizations who have strong community ties to partner and host meetings around issues they cared about. These allies understand that getting parents involved requires having a relationship, and they shared how food helped build strong connections. These relationships led to a data co-interpretation project, in which community members and allies work together to interpret the data. The comments generated from the project are added as equity impact statements on each piece of legislation.

North Carolina allies spoke about their Parent Advisory Council, which was created while the state was moving to Medicaid managed care because there often was little-to-no parent representation in the policy process on issues, like Medicaid reform, that most affect families. The group has since evolved to work on a wide range of child and family issues. NC Child provides compensated training for PAC members on using qualitative story collection for advocacy. As a result, PAC members tap into their networks and communities to elevate the voices of those who are most impacted and develop policy recommendations for community-driven solutions. NC Child is evaluating the PAC to understand the best strategies for developing community-based solutions.

Oregon allies presented along with Andrew Yoshihara, a member of Black Child Development PDX and founder and executive director of Bustin’ Barriers. When the Children’s Institute attended Black Child Development PDX meetings, they learned that implicit bias and reducing the prevalence of suspensions and expulsions was a priority for Black parents.  This wasn’t on their policy agenda, but they formed a relationship with Andrew who became a strong voice and advocated for the passage of SB 236. The Children’s Institute provided legislative expertise and strategy, and  they navigated the process with Andrew to help him share his story in front of legislators. Elevating the stories of parents proves to be a powerful advocacy technique. 

The Alliance policy team compiled and shared a resource list of the successful journey in partnering with parents and organizing groups. 

The state early childhood policy advocates on the call also traded information and strategies on how to cultivate relationships with parents and community members:

  • Listen to parents! It is important not to approach families with your agenda but to help parents cultivate the skills to navigate the policy process and the barriers around the issues they care about. 
  • Provide stipends and compensation for the parents’ time. Advancements are better than reimbursements. Examples include gift cards, food, transportation, and child care. 
  • Meet parents where they are. If you don’t have genuine relationships with parents, partner with those who do.  
  • Identify the mutual benefits of your partnership outside of compensation. Parents want to do what is best for their children and they want to be heard. Give them that opportunity but recognize that the policy-making process can be a barrier.  Some legislators will not accommodate their schedules and will make it hard for them to participate.  Policy advocates can help them navigate the process and benefit from the perspective they offer.

We welcome your thoughts on what else you’d like to learn from your peers. Are you partnering with parent organizing groups? Are you building the advocacy capacity of parents? What about providers? We anticipate digging into some of these related questions in future huddles.

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